Ecological Challenges

Art about climate change: a new trend

This post comes to you from Culture|Futures

rain-room590

“Wow, I wish I knew someone dealing with climate change. How is it that no artists are working with the most compelling issue that affects all of us?”

Jane Tsong said this to Robby Herbst when he asked her if she would direct him to an Los Angeles-based artist addressing the topic in May 2013.

“Climate change poses some tough problems for artists: as a concept, it has long seemed too big, too grim, too abstract, too political and too far away. Efforts to portray it quickly become too preachy, too scientific, too shaming. Few can make a living from making people feel bad about themselves and doomed about the world.”

An anonymous reporter wrote this in the Economist on 20 July 2013. The Economist writer sees a new trend where cultural meditations on climate change are becoming more popular, and mentions three recent examples of this:

• New York’s Museum of Modern Art has had a summer-long arts festival, ‘Expo 1: New York’, that attempts to address climate change and the ecological challenges of the 21st century. The exhibitions of the festival will be on view until 2 September 2013.

• In January 2013, Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt began what it calls ‘The Anthropocene Project’ — a two-year culture programme that considers the human impact on the natural world.

• In October 2013, Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, one of the largest in North America, will host ‘Carbon 14’ — an art exhibition and four-month programme of plays, talks and seminars about climate change.

Touch and disturb
The exhibitions, shows and festival ‘Expo 1: New York’ at Museum of Modern Art features the short film ‘The Drowning Room’, an installation by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson called ‘Your Waste of Time’, a ‘Rain Room’ by the London-based group Random International which is a room of falling water for visitors to walk through, and an exhibition of a group of large photographs of the American frontier by Ansel Adams.

Anchoring the exhibition/show/festival at Museum of Modern Art is ‘Dark Optimism’. “The name, coined by online publication Triple Canopy, encapsulates the sentiment of being on the edge of apocalypse, tempered with the hope of technological innovation. Featuring work from 35 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Adrián Villar Rojas, Meg Webster, Agnes Denes, and Anna Betbeze, a selection of landscapes by Ansel Adams, and a group exhibition curated by Josh Kline preoccupied with the human body and technology, Dark Optimism seeks to reconcile the failure of Modernism’s ideals with humanity’s capacity for an improved future,” wrote Colleen Kelsey in Interview Magazine.

The Economist interviewed Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1, the contemporary wing of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, who explained:

“After Hurricane Sandy in late 2012 — which destroyed New York’s coastline, ruined many art galleries and left locals feeling vulnerable — the show’s environmental concerns became more urgent.” At a time when climate is vanishing from the political agenda, Klaus Biesenbach believes art can “touch and disturb” in ways that charts and articles cannot.

Can artists do better?
“Climate change is one area where the communication of uncertainty has landed scientists in dangerous territory. Can artists do better?,” asks art and science blogger Johanna Kieniewicz, who herself is a ‘bridge-crosser’ between the two worlds holding a PhD in Earth and Planetary Science as well as a foundation degree in fine art.

In her blog ‘Plos – where art and science meet’, she concluded in a blogpost on 25 July 2013, titled ‘Art of Uncertainty’:

“Artists are not going to solve scientists’ problem of communicating uncertainty pertaining to climate change. This is something that scientists themselves need to do, perhaps with help from sociologists and innovative designers. But in so doing, scientists must recognise that in the communication of uncertainty, they must not just win minds, but also hearts. This does not necessarily come naturally. I suspect that there is a great opportunity for artists who are interested in collaborating with scientists to engage in this area.”

Art contest: CoolClimate
Luis Hestres wrote on 1sky.org:

The folks at the Creative Visions, Crosscurrents and Quixote Foundations realize that art has the potential to move and inspire people the way facts and figures, necessary as they are, simply can’t. After all, there’s a reason why a copy of Picasso’s Guernica is hanging at the U.N. building instead of a fact sheet about casualties during the Spanish Civil War.

That’s why they’ve launched the CoolClimate Art Contest, which has been running since 12 July and closes on 6 September 2013:

The contest seeks to generate iconic images that address the impact of climate change and spurs participation in the climate change debate. Create a work that encompasses the questions above and explores our relationship with the climate — from clean energy jobs to pollution-free oceans — the subject choice is yours.

The contest will be judged by a who’s who from the artistic, scientific and climate advocacy worlds:

  • Jackson Browne (musician)
  • Jayni Chase (philanthropist)
  • Chevy Chase (comedian)
  • Mel Chin (artist)
  • Dianna Cohen (environmental artist)
  • Philippe Cousteau (ecologist)
  • Agnes Gund (renown art collector)
  • Van Jones (environmental activist)
  • David Ross (former head of Whitney Museum and SF Museum of Modern Art)
  • Carrie Mae Weems (artist)

The deadline to submit artwork is 6 September 2013. If you’ve decided to participate, good luck!


Sources:

The Economist – 20 July 2013:
Art about climate change: Chilling
“The future is uncertain. It is also inspiring.”

Interview Magazine – 24 April 2013:
MOMA PS1’S Current Climate
By Colleen Kelsey

ArtNews – 13 November 2012:
A Climate Change in the Art World?
The art community is digging out, drying off, counting its losses, helping its neighbors–and starting to prepare for the hurricanes of the future. By Robin Cembalest

Artbound – 10 May 2013:
Who Makes Art About Climate Change?
By Robby Herbst

Plos – 25 July 2013:
‘Art of Uncertainty’
By Johanna Kieniewicz

1sky.org – 11 August 2013:
CoolClimate Art Contest sets out to inspire climate action
By Luis Hestres

Culture|Futures is an international collaboration of organizations and individuals who are concerned with shaping and delivering a proactive cultural agenda to support the necessary transition towards an Ecological Age by 2050.

The Cultural sector that we refer to is an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, inter-genre collaboration, which encompasses policy-making, intercultural dialogue/cultural relations, creative cities/cultural planning, creative industries and research and development. It is those decision-makers and practitioners who can reach people in a direct way, through diverse messages and mediums.

Affecting the thinking and behaviour of people and communities is about the dissemination of stories which will profoundly impact cultural values, beliefs and thereby actions. The stories can open people’s eyes to a way of thinking that has not been considered before, challenge a preconceived notion of the past, or a vision of the future that had not been envisioned as possible. As a sector which is viewed as imbued with creativity and cultural values, rather than purely financial motivations, the cultural sector’s stories maintain the trust of people and society.
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Sue Spaid reviews Expo 1: New York, Dark Optimism at PS1. Intro by Amy Lipton

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace

244820899c73d0d08db6fa098f16eab2Expo 1: New York, focuses on some of the most pressing environmental and sociopolitical issues of the day. It takes the urgent and pragmatic sensibility of “Dark Optimism” as its position. Dark Optimism addresses ecological challenges set against the backdrop of economic turmoil and sociopolitical upheaval that has made a dramatic impact on daily life. In response to these global challenges, the magazine and editorial collective Triple Canopy calls for “dark optimism,” an attitude that encompasses both the seeming end of the world and its beginning, one that is positioned on the brink of apocalypse and the onset of unprecedented technological transformation. Climate change has generated storms, droughts, and floods that occur with greater frequency and severity. Economic volatility around the world has precipitated political action, giving rise to manifestations and uprisings in regions such as Northern Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, and New York’s Wall Street. Meanwhile technological innovations and novel architectural initiatives offer the tantalizing promise of a brighter future. Recent advancements have facilitated communication – which at times has helped organize political protests-as well as access to information with such ease and volume that it threatens to become overwhelming in scale. The works exhibited in Dark Optimism make note of these paradoxical conditions and the instabilities of both natural and artificial systems. – wall text at PS1 MoMA

I’ve made three visits to PS1 MoMA’s exhibition Expo 1: New York, Dark Optimism, and have tried unsuccessfully to find anything in the exhibition that reflects the museum wall statement quoted above. As a curator who has focused on working with ecological artists for over a decade, I went to PS1 with excitement to see this challenge (finally) being taken on by a major New York institution for contemporary art. The show was organized with good intentions in direct response to the effects of last year’s Hurricane Sandy and its far-reaching impact on our local environment and economy, on coastal communities and in New York City. Unfortunately I have to express my disappointment. The works in the exhibition refer to the title Dark Optimism, presenting the dark, apocalyptic and catastrophic in current art trends.  My co-curator of the landmark 2002 exhibition Ecovention, Sue Spaid, aptly calls it “catastrophe art” in her review below. Sadly missing are examples of the many important artists working today whose efforts do offer some cautious optimism. Our environmental situation is dire to say the least. Myriad issues conspire towards our demise – climate change; land, sea and air pollution from the relentless extraction of fossil fuels; oil spills and nuclear leaks; habitat destruction; species extinctions; the list goes on and on.

In the New York area alone there are numerous artists, established and emerging, making profound and inspiring works that tackle these issues, but they are not represented in this exhibition. Brandon Ballengee, Lillian Ball, Joan Bankemper, Jackie Brookner, Betsy Damon, Michele Brody, Wendy Brawer, Mel Chin, Elizabeth Demaray, Peter Fend, Katie Holten, Natalie Jeremijenko, Kristin Jones, Eve Andree Laramee, Ellen Levy, Lenore Malen, Mary Miss, Maria Michaels, Mary Mattingly, Aimee Morgana, Eve Mosher, Leila Christine Nadir, Cary Peppermint, Aviva Rahmani, Andrea Reynosa, Christy Rupp, Jenna Spevack, Alan Sonfist, Katrin Spiess, Tattfoo Tan, Mierle Ukeles, – to name a few. And that list doesn’t include the many artists outside of New York, internationally, or the hundreds of painters and photographers who make work representing and bringing awareness to environmental issues. No exhibition can be completely inclusive – but a show on ecological challenges in New York City has been long awaited and this is a real missed opportunity to give the topic the seriousness and depth it deserves.

Thanks to the daily programming of lectures, debates and discussion by Triple Canopy at PS1 in conjunction with the exhibition – Speculations (“The Future is____________”). A few of the artists I mentioned above, Natalie Jeremijenko, Mary Mattingly and Mierle Ukeles (and Agnes Denes, the one historical ecological artist included in the show) were invited to come discuss their visions for the future and give a presentation on their works that go beyond addressing environmental challenges to offering creative, imaginative and pragmatic approaches to the dire problems we face. That is what I call optimism.

Expo 1: New York “Dark Optimism” remains on view through September 2, at MoMA PS1

Amy Lipton
Curator ecoartspace NY

Expo 1: New York
Dark Optimism May 12-September 2, MoMA PS1
Rain Room May 12-July 28, MoMA, West Lot
School May 13-July 28, MoMA PS1

According to its press release, Expo 1 is a “festival-as-institution,” enabling people to explore “ecological challenges in the context of 21st century economic and socio-political instability.” This statement indicates MoMA PS1’s neoliberal delusion, since instabilities rather mitigate “ecological challenges.” Consider Europe’s diminished car sales since 2008. Greater stability typically invites capital investments and development, which deplete natural resources and animal habitat, while intensifying climate change, flooding, desertification, and groundwater contamination. Consider the BRICS nations, whose swelling ecological challenges reflect their expanding ecological footprints.

Dark Optimism, which assembles 35 solo exhibitions, is the satellite around which Expo 1 revolves. The curatorial team (more than twenty collaborators) has also organized a school (50+ Triple Canopy events), kitchen garden (for M. Wells dishes), colony inhabiting cultural agents, cinema, ProBio (mini-expo), community center (VW geodesic dome sited in Rockaway to showcase relief shelters and 25 proposed climate-change survival plans), and Rain Room. As compared to Olafur Eliasson’s magical Your strange certainty still kept (1996), the high-tech Rain Room adjacent MoMA eradicates wonder. The metaphorical approach of the smaller exhibition ProBio fails to uncover anything remarkable as compared to works by dozens of artists who explore technology’s actual impact on human bodies.

The curators claim that the presence of so many simultaneous activities enables PS1 to experiment with “social practice,” yet none of the invited artists are especially known for sparking conversations or engaging unsuspecting spectators. Absent merry makers, “social practice” is reduced to ever more festival spectacles and educational programs. Of the fifty artists, filmmakers, and novelists invited to lecture and/or lead discussions in response to Triple Canopy’s suggestion, “The future is___”, only Ruth DeFries, Natalie Jeremijenko, Agnes Denes, Mary Mattingly, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles confront ecological issues. This dearth of eco-personnel further devalues this festival’s stated goals.

Opposing Dark Optimism is The Politics of Contemplation, fifty dramatic Ansel Adams photographs from 1932 to 1968. Shot mostly in Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the San Mateo County Coast, they record nature’s fragility and majesty. One might say that Dark Optimism “surveys a landscape of wilderness and ruins, darkened by uncertain catastrophe. Humankind is being eclipsed and new ecological systems struggle to find a precocious balance.” However, I am quoting the New Museum’s 2008 press release for Against Nature. As a trilogy, Against NatureSeptember 11 (2011), and Dark Optimism launch a new genre, “catastrophe art.”

Exemplary of stability’s role in augmenting ecological challenges, Olafur Eliasson’s Your waste of time (2006/2013) presents twelve glacier chunks transported from Vatnajökoll (Iceland’s largest glacier) and displayed in a solar-powered refrigerated gallery. Equally cynical is Cinthia Marcelle’s video depicting a bulldozer performing crazy eights atop an already flattened field. Equally over-the-top is Adrián Villar Rojas’ La inocencia de los animales (2013), an indoor amphitheater whose colossal scale evokes Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. With its simultaneous references to antiquity and post-apocalyptic Earth, La inocencia seems straight out of Planet of the Apes. Absent bathers, Meg Webster’s reconstructed Pool (1998/2013) makes promises but negates possibilities, which is this exhibition’s leitmotif.

By presenting artworks focused on natural or manmade catastrophes, Dark Optimism overlooks artists’ endeavors to prophesy or alleviate preventable disasters. Rather than exhibit any of the novel ecological solutions that dozens of ingenious artists working on every continent have implemented —over the past forty years—the curators present artworks that merely react to our planet’s terrible situation, leaving Earth’s ill-health as yet another arena for appropriation. Colonization offers a better description. In this context, Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield:A Confrontation, which presaged Wall Street’s ascendancy and global food shortages, is less a testament to human potential and more a nostalgic monument to pre-9/11 innocence. Once a clever solution, Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fresh Air Cart (1972) is now a sign portending doom. One leaves thinking, “What’s bad for Earth is good for art,” as if disaster photographs now provide artistic inspiration. Peter Buggenhout’s three fascinating sculptures evoke mud-encrusted metal structures, while Anna Bettbeze fabulous wall hangings hint at acid-stained or flood-ravished carpets.


Pierre Huyghe
Zoodram 5 (after Sleeping Muse by Constantin Brancusi) 2011
Live Marine ecosystem, sculptured shell, basalt rock and filtration system


John MIller, A Refusal to Accept Limits (detail), 2012
The curators claim that Dark Optimism reflects the future that is, “if you want it to be there,” yet few artists here glance forward and most treat catastrophes too lightly. Given wolves’ moose diets, Mircea Cantor’s short video Deeparture (2005) proved to be incredibly scary, as I envisioned the wolf devouring its lone cohabitant. Belittling lynchings, Mark Dion’s Killers Killed (2004-2007) features nine tarred and lynched predators. As remarks on consumer excess, Klara Lidén’s nine trashy trashcans and John Miller’s gold-plated recyclables feel trite.

No “catastrophe art” exhibition would feel complete without Chris Burden’s model Titanic ships balanced on the Eifel Tower, Latifa Echakhch’s shattered tea-glass installation, Mitch Epstein’s menacing power-plant photographs, Paweł Althamer’s outerspace zombies, or Pierre Huyghe’s staged battle between elegant arrow crabs and a hermit crab inhabiting Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse.

Premised on utopia’s twin promises of harmonious nature and technological liberation, “catastrophe art” actually distracts us from Earth’s generosity, leaving us unwilling to face our destructiveness fully and practically. Only Ugo Rondinone’s sensorial soundscape and Dan Attoe’s intriguing paintings rise above this exhibition’s passivity towards disaster, precisely because they invite possibility. Attoe’s hidden messages warn people to pay attention to past mistakes, and remind us, “This world has everything that you could ever want.”


Meg Webster. Pool. 1998/2013. Installation view of EXPO 1: New York at MoMA PS1.
Photo: Matthew Septimus.
Sue Spaid, 2013

This review first appeared in Issue 113 of H art, a Flemish art journal


Natalie Jeremijnko top and Mierle Ukeles bottom (photos: Amy Lipton) from Triple Canopy’s School at PS1 Speculations (“The Future is____________”) 

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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Brazil: Seminar on Culture and Sustainable Development

This post comes to you from Culture|Futures

eu-brasil-homepageWithin the framework of the Joint Programme ‘EU-Brazil Sector Dialogues’, the Ministries of Culture and Planning, Budget and Management will hold a seminar on Culture and Sustainable Development, which will take place from 21 to 23 May 2013, in Brasilia, Brazil.

The seminar aims to strengthen the role of culture as a catalyst for global governance as well as to promote the importance of culture for sustainable development, exploring the three axes of this concept — social, economic and environmental.

The event will have three discussion tables, which will debate the contribution of culture to each of these three axes. These tables will be composed by distinguished guests from the European Union and Brazil, with recognized experience in the academic field, in public administration or in cultural production. At the closing session, there will be a moment to reflect on the relevance of culture as a fourth pillar of sustainable development, and how cultural cooperation between the EU and Brazil can strengthen the culture in global governance.

In order to enhance the quality of this dialogue, Olaf Gerlach-Hansen of Culture|Futures has been invited to take part in this seminar as a speaker who will address the theme ‘Culture and Environment’.

Programme description
The development of any culture arises from the constant interaction between the environment and human needs. As cultural identity and social stability may be strongly influenced by environmental conditions, cultural factors may influence consumption behaviors and attitudes related to environmental management. Therefore, culture and cultural diversity are key pieces for attitude changes towards environmental values.

On issues ranging from the erosion of biodiversity to climate change, cultural diversity has an important role to play in the way it addresses the current ecological challenges and ensure the future of sustainable environmental. In order to face the current ecological challenges, primarily technical and scientific responses are usually sought. However, the recognition that cultural practices are intimately linked to environmental integrity has been greater than ever.

There is an interdependence between biological diversity and cultural diversity, although is of little knowledge in what degree they relate. It goes far beyond what is commonly perceived in common sense. The reciprocity between both elements is clear: many cultural practices come, in its existence and expression, from certain specific elements of biodiversity. In a similar way, important sets of biological diversity are developed, maintained and administered by specific cultural groups, whose cultural aspects are the core of this special management practices.

The way of life of the majority of indigenous people embodies biodiversity. The cultural and religious beliefs, and spiritual values of these traditional societies, often have the effect of preventing predatory exploitation of resources and ensure the viability of the ecosystems on which they depend on.

The traditional indigenous practices of management and use of environmental resources, including construction techniques, represent a more sustainable way of land use, consumption and production, and also contribute to food security and access to water. These practices are based on a knowledge developed after centuries of adaptation. Therefore the concept of sustainable use of biological diversity — which is one of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity — is inherent in the indigenous and traditional society’s value systems.

Culture|Futures is an international collaboration of organizations and individuals who are concerned with shaping and delivering a proactive cultural agenda to support the necessary transition towards an Ecological Age by 2050.

The Cultural sector that we refer to is an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, inter-genre collaboration, which encompasses policy-making, intercultural dialogue/cultural relations, creative cities/cultural planning, creative industries and research and development. It is those decision-makers and practitioners who can reach people in a direct way, through diverse messages and mediums.

Affecting the thinking and behaviour of people and communities is about the dissemination of stories which will profoundly impact cultural values, beliefs and thereby actions. The stories can open people’s eyes to a way of thinking that has not been considered before, challenge a preconceived notion of the past, or a vision of the future that had not been envisioned as possible. As a sector which is viewed as imbued with creativity and cultural values, rather than purely financial motivations, the cultural sector’s stories maintain the trust of people and society.
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AGUAZERO Call for Art

Theme:
We are inviting submissions in water-based medium on or with paper.
The competition has an environmental agenda requesting submissions to reference the contrary character of climate change. For example, increased desertification and the escalating effects of weather events such as flooding and soil erosion.
The work should be based on observation, experience and invention. It must be as involved with the process and materials of painting/drawing etc. as with the response to climate change.
We are interested in works that invite close scrutiny and, like environmental events in the world around us, reveal themselves gradually and steadily over time, prompting reaction and renewed contemplation of the ecological challenges the world faces.
Prize:
A two week residency at Cortijada Los Gázquez / Joya: arte + ecologia, Andalucía, Spain including travel costs within Europe (not accommodation while in transit). Winners from outside of Europe can have their travel expenses paid once they are within the EU.
The winner will have sole use of a thirty square meter studio and 20 hectares of land for the period. Accommodation and meals are included as is collection and return to the nearest public transport system. Resident artists will be featured on the Joya: arte + ecología web page, which will include biographical information and images. The work undertaken during the residency will also be documented and entered into our archive.
http://www.losgazquez.com/en/joya/